Friday, August 08, 2014
Thursday August 7, 2014
Hello, Harvin here. It’s actually August 8th right now. I am sitting here early this morning, recapping yesterday’s events, sipping coffee (still SO thankful for Donna’s gift of a percolator coffee maker for me), listening to the home of 28 kids begin to arise: Sleepy voices in Kinyarwanda drifting in from upstairs. Auntie Grace sweeping up the few remnants of the popcorn dance party we missed last night. Our cook Manuel setting out the cups of porridge that will fuel our morning. The sense of calm before the storm of activity that 28 kids descending on the day will bring.
I have so missed this. It’s good to be back.
Yesterday started about the same as today, the house slowly waking up, etc. Or at least I assume it did. I wasn’t awake to experience it. I finally whipped my jet lag and slept through the night, sleeping in till 8 for the first time. So yesterday I arose to porridge on the table, a pot of coffee already brewed for me, a couple dozen hugs greeting my sleepy eyes. Except for the water running out before I could fill half a bucket for my cold shower the night before, I’d say it’s like my own little perfect Rwandan B&B. I really do have a wonderful life here.
During breakfast Franny was double checking all our list of sponsors vs. thank you notes, and discovered despite our best efforts the night before we had missed a few. That’s ok. Give these kids a paint set or a bunch of crayons and markers, and many are often content with sitting and coloring together. So we split up as a family. Some of us chose to go to the field to play soccer again, some chose to stay and color and finish the few remaining thank you notes. I chose soccer.
By the time we arrived at the field we had collected our opposing team. It works that way. A few Muzungos with a legitimate soccer ball walking down a rutted path to a field draws a crowd. A side note on the field today; only one goal was usable. The other had a crowd of kids and parents around it, with a local physician weighing the kids by putting them in a harness and scale suspended by the other goal post. Think of a fish scale for kids. So many unfamiliar things happen here that you just have to soak it all in and laugh. We adjusted and put out rocks for a goal on that side and started the game.
I was pressed into playing goalie. My defenders were Grace, Anna, and Prince. Isaac took his normal position as striker, Eli and Fabiola playing midfield. We were set to take on the locals. They scored on us right away. Given many of our kids stayed behind, today we were even more outnumbered so I asked one of the opposing ringers to join our team instead to even it out. From there on it was a pretty even match. Fabiola ended up our lead scorer despite getting kicked in the shin and limping off the field for a short rest before returning once the tide turned against us (tough girl that one). Isaac’s ball handling skills were on display again. Grace and Anna and Prince did an admirable job running towards whoever had the ball in our end and employing that age old defensive strategy of giggling and causing general chaos amongst the sea of kids aligned against us. Final score New Hope Homes 6, Rwandan locals 4. We all shook hands and started home just in time for lunch.
Lunch today was a special treat. Each time Donna visits, she takes the kids that perform the best in school (ranked 1,2, or 3) for an outing to recognize their hard work. Today it was back to Volcano pizza with Grace, Chanel, Desame, and Sala. And Donna and I had an alternative mission. There is always so much to do here that can distract from time with the kids, general errands that need doing, etc. and as Ely so aptly described in his blog, things can take a long time here to do anything. Culturally time moves slower, but Donna and I were on a mission to show Eli and Franny just what two type A executives with a hyper organization skills, a good attitude, and sense of humor could accomplish in 3 hours even here. Eli and Frany don’t believe we can get so much done in so little time.
Final tally? In 3.5 hours we were able to drop off Donna’s dresser to get drawers made, pick up water, make two stops at Tigo (think Rwandan Verizon) to get my phone working, drop off three pairs of jeans that were too long to be hemmed, buy water, exchange money, buy a small table for the spare room or kitchen, get a couple extra keys made, buy some plastic buckets for the bathroom for bathing, and have a relaxing lunch celebrating the kid’s accomplishments in school. Now in American this might sound like a normal Saturday afternoon To Do list, but trust me in TIA (this is Africa) this was a miracle of accomplishment in such a short amount of time.
And now for a little color….
1. Our money changer in Musanze works out of one room shop, carries all his Rwandan Francs around in a large paper bag, and will meet you anywhere in town. He’s totally legit, very honest, gives a good exchange rate, etc, but every time I find myself in the back aisle of a grocery store with a man dealing thousands of dollars out of a paper bag I can’t help feeling like I’m part of some elicit deal. Part of the color of our lives here. TIA
2. Lunch was awesome. The kids were super excited, and hungry. How their little bodies were able to pack in a single pizza each defies the laws of physics. Then again, if I tasted pizza for the first time I’d probably overeat as well.
3. We have a bet on whether or not we will ever see Donna’s dresser again after dropping it off at a rather sketchy looking roadside wood working / lumber yard. This was plan B since the original carpenter never finished the work. TIA
4. Watching Eli carry the small table through the market on his head, to the stares of the locals and having him fend off the endless offers to carry it for him (for a small price no doubt) was hilarious. TIA
5. And trust me, getting a key made in Musanze is not like walking into your local hardware store. TIA
We returned to New Hope Homes and put our new buckets to good use by re-introducing them to the concept of bobbing for apples. Eli was good enough to demonstrate the concept – and got rather wet to the laughter of the kids, who then lined up to try their hand, um, er, face at it. Lots jeering, all successful at spearing an apple with their teeth, even Ms. Donna and Franny, after a good soaking each and lots of laughter, were able to wrangle their apples up.
And then it, as it often does, turned into impromptu fun. We all hung out in the yard for a good hour, practicing headstands with each other, wheelbarrow races, kids carrying kids on their backs backwards like backpacks (too funny) and just general good times till dusk drove us inside.
The plan was to watch another movie after dinner, but of course for that you need electricity and as sometimes happens, we were without power. No problem. My phone had power and disco music down loaded. Flashlights, when shaken properly, make excellent strobe lights. The coals of Manuel’s cooking fire were still hot enough to pop popcorn. All the ingredients needed for a Disco Popcorn Dance party - 28 kids dancing to 70’s music by the light of flashlights - so much fun.
After the little kids went to bed, Franny, to the joy of the older kids, substituted her phone’s hip modern playlist for mine, and the girls put on a demonstration of Beyonce’s All the Single Girls. That turned into a boy vs. girls dance off (which the boys lost of course) and then the lights came back on and it evolved into a rather fun and funny fashion show, with all the girls (and the very good sport Eli) dressing up in Rwandan dresses and parading down the made up runway of the hall. Seeing my nephew Eli both laughing with and being laughed at for his willingness to play along made this uncle very proud.
And then lights out so soon after lights just came on. Donna and I retired to our usual nighttime roost at the top of the stairs of the boy’s side (the only place we’ve found to get good data reception in the house) to recap our day together and return all those work emails that had started filling our inbox a few hours earlier, ending one more long, fulfilling, and fun day at New Hope Homes.
Wednesday August 6, 2014
Greetings. This is Ely here, Harvin’s nephew. I am 16, traveling to Rwanda for my first time, and am guest blogging our day here.
We started this wild day with a beautiful sunrise hike to the top of a “mountain” just a quarter of a mile away from New Hope Homes. The little ones were unable to come with us on our valiant quest to the top of the mountain which I was a little disappointed about, but after an hour long hike I knew why. The mountain was rather steep, narrow and had many curves which the little ones would not be able to handle. However, Donna was able to make it to the top and back down with her bad knee because she cherishes the smiles of the kids from New Hope Homes and wanted to be at the top to take photos of them. On our way up we saw many brick buildings that had at most 1 or 2 rooms. It was very sad seeing how these families lived and I wished I could do something for them all. Upon reaching the summit we found raspberry/strawberry looking things which were splendid. We stayed up top for awhile just sitting in silence listening to the kids and enjoying the scenery. After many photos and laughs we headed back down and halfway I saw one of the most amazing things ever. A woman had 4 bricks at least 10 pounds on her head walking down the mountain. We got Nshimeye our artist/professional photographer to snap a photo.
When we got back home we eat their porridge and then I played with a group of the little ones on the trampoline, which we all find very fun. After awhile Donna, Harvin, Franny and I went to a pizza restaurant called Volcano Pizza with Norbert and his family. Now when people go to a restaurant in America they expect to be there for two hours at most. However, that is not the case in Rwanda. We ate a 3 or more hour lunch because we felt very obligated to continue conversing with our guests and it is rather rude to rush your departure in Rwanda. Don’t take this the wrong way though. We all love Norbert and it was a pleasure to meet his family for the first time (especially Norbert’s cute baby nephew). After our lunch we drove over to the church and began our new expedition.
Our group of four was in a van on the backside of the church at sundown with people walking by counting out 700,000 Rwandan francs and a few US hundred dollar bills for Norbert’s flight back to America. This was no easy task. Every franc was a 2,000 bill (about $3) because Donna wanted to finally dispose of them after years of being forced to exchange money for small bills and gathering more and more. We started just counting them out and more often than not losing track of what number we were on, causing us to start all over again. Then out of the blue Harvin came up with a brilliant idea to count out 10 francs and fold the tenth around the other 9 to hold them. After we finished our counting we walked into the dark church with literally ‘a block of francs’. We had a little confusion of where to go but finally made it to Milly, a very nice lady who had actually quit her high paying job at Compassion in Kigali to come and be Bishop’s assistant in the church. Then we drove to get gas and air for the van, but there was a complication that we have been dealing with a lot. Very few here know English well, so Harvin did some odd gestures and they soon figured it out.
Then it came, the most chaotic moment all week… Thank you notes. I thought it would be done very soon and we could move on, but I was very wrong. Many of the beloved little ones wrote on already finished thank you notes and they needed to redo them. Others needed help with sponsor names and spelling. However, the effort of all the kids was wonderful. They all wanted to do the best they could and return what they could to their sponsors.
I have personally seen all the joyful faces when they open their backpacks to see what they get for the year. Whether it be school fees, clothes, or some other form of support for these kids I would like to thank you for all you have done. It really means a lot to the kids.
Tuesday August 5, 2014
Hello, this is Franny here. I have been sponsoring Sala and Mwami with my friend Alice for 3 years. This is my first trip to Rwanda and New Hope Homes and I’m loving it. I am guest blogging for Donna today – hope you enjoy.
We went to town and picked the moto up with a new back tire. Harvin, Eli, and Franny got measurements taken for new clothes. The kids helped Franny pick out fabric and a style for a new dress. Then we went to the Mother’s Union store and got gifts for our families. We also bought a mattress for the matriarch of the small village on the hill.
After getting home from town, everyone went to the football field. It was so nice. We had match between the kids of New Hope Homes and some local kids. There was a huge group of 53 people watching by the end. We all took lots of pictures. Auntie Grace organized a few games for all the spectators. It was amazing to see Auntie Gracie playing football. It was sooooooo nice! Then we walked back home.
Then we left for another adventure: giving the matriarch of the small village on the hill her mattress. Nshimiye carried the mattress the whole way there! We greeted her and she welcomed us very warmly. Going into her house, in place of stairs, are rocks. There is no light in her house, only light coming from the doorway and a small window. Seeing her so happy and joyful over a mattress (something I tend to take for granted) really put things into perspective. Then we brought the mattress inside and we helped to prepare it. Her bed before we brought her new mattress was boulders and hay. We put bed sheets and a blanket and a pillow on the bed. Then we knelt on the ground and she prayed for us. Seeing a person living with so little, but still so joyful really made us grateful for what we have. Esther translated for us and she did such a good job! Then the old lady accompanied us to the teacher’s house. We greeted the teacher and gave her a picture of her and her daughter. We walked back home and a bunch of local kids walked with us.
When we arrived home we were greeted by the Littles in their pajamas. After reaching home, we played for a few minutes and then we ate dinner. Then we finished Frozen! Frozen was soooooooooooo nice! We loved the music!
Then we helped Harvin cook meat. We cut it up, boiled it, and then grilled it. We are still working on grilling it! We just finished our night with a dance party! Goodnight, that is the end of the story! Tomorrow we will climb the hill!
Lots of Love,
Franny, Esther, and Marie Rose
Let the adventure begin – by Donna
9 supply bags, 4 volunteers and the hearts of so many people go with us as we set on for another trip to Rwanda.
Havin – back again! His 5th trip. But, it’s been a year so he is wondering how the kids of grown.
Eli – Harvin’s 17 year old nephew. His 1st trip outside of the U.S. Wow, way to sing up for an extended haul for your 1st adventure.
Franny – A 17 year old friend of a neighbor and ours who have been raising money to help Sala and Mwami with their school fees and annual needs.
The trip was a bit more complicated in that Harvin and I wanted to attend a friends wedding in Chicago Friday night. This meant we needed to find a way to get all 9 bags to Chicago so we didn’t have to pay double fees. Eli’s mom and dad to the rescue. They drove Eli and all 9 bags to Chicago in the bed of their covered pick up truck.
Saturday AM we were off! Franny connected with us in Chicago and away we went.
The trip is basically 2 – 8.5 hour flights, plus a 4 hour layover and then a 2.5 hour drive to our home in Musanze.
Arriving in Kigali, Harvin was especially happy with the surprise I had planned. Norbert, his brother Albert, Albert’s fiancé, Halima and their friend Wilson all met us at the airport. Halima was holding the New Hope Homes sign. It was such a joy for him to meet Halima who will be the next student from Sonrise School in Rwanda to attend St. Olaf College in Mn. Both Norbert and Halima will be traveling back with us. Our good friend Kevin from KLM joined us for a coke and Fanta before we set out on our drive.
Eli and Franny were troopers taking the windy road to our home in pitch black in style. All good.
As we pulled off the road to get to our house, Harvin said, “I sure miss arriving home when the kids were still awake”. It was 11:30 PM so we knew there was no hope that it could be true.
Instead however, were we surprised. The first sign was a piece of paper in the door greeting us. It was however, not taped to the door, it appeared to be moving in a hand. Next, while the lights were off, we heard lots and lots of giggling. As I opened the door they scattered and then Harvin said “I see you. I see you” to which they came running with a small box of flower petals and threw them up in the air over each of us. It was so sweet. There were also welcome signs for us and a portrait of me by Nshiyme.
The big kids helped get our supply bags into storage and gave good night kisses. It was just what these weary bodies needed to end the journey.
Franny is sleeping in the top bunk in one of the girls room and Eli is in a bed in Harvin’s room.
This morning we were greeting by the songs of the little girls. Their favorite songs are by our friend Sophie from Australia who made a recording when she was here in Rwanda.
After morning porridge. Franny, Eli, Harvin and I headed to the market to get some pineapples and bananas. Harvin and Eli took the scooter while I drove Franny and some of the big kids. It was a great chance to show Franny and Eli a different kind of market from which they are used to in the States. We entered the gates to see all of the stands with people everywhere. Everything is negotatied and we are proud that we now get local prices vs Muzongo (white people) prices. Pineapples are about 70 cents each with a small bunch of small bananas a bit less. We also bought the kids their favorite treat – apples! One apple is the same cost as whole pineapple. The kids simply love them. Harvin’s mom sent along the money to give the kids this treat. We will share them tomorrow.
In route to pick up water, Harvin and Eli had a flat on the scooter. It was perfect that we also had the van with us. In Africa, everything takes some extra time so simply replacing the tube on the inside of the tire requires 2-3 stops. Lots of people studying it. Identifying that we had also bent the rim on the tire thus causing the flat. After waiting for about an hour as people assessed the situation, we decided to leave the scooter in town as a new tube would come via bus this afternoon.
Back at home the kids had lunch and then we played on the trampoline, goofed around in the yard playing a combo of hide n seek/tag. Mama Chantal came for a nice visit and then we sent Lionel back to school. He is in P6 so he must study for his national exams – a critical rite of passage in the country.
We had to run to town to upload a video that I needed to send and get our computer working a bit better. This trip meant Franny and Eli had a chance to make their 1st purchases. Some of the big kids escorted them to get water, recharge minutes for the phone and Harvin’s favorite hot sauce. We of course were a bit cruel and had them go back for each of these one at time…kinda like a scavenger hunt to they could get their bearings. They did AWESOME.
Dinner was followed by watching the 1st hour of FROZEN. Thanks Christian for sending it with me. They can’t wait to see the end.
The big kids get 30 minutes extra to stay awake after the little kids go to sleep so we decided to try a new game. Guesstures! It was too funny. The kids have never played charades before so it was great humor for them to try to get the concept. The 1st match ended in a tie. Tomorrow will be a rematch.
Soooo, day one is complete. Weary traveling souls filled with abundant peace and joy for being here with the kids and family of New Hope Homes. Life is indeed very simple here, very sweet and abundantly blessed.